Tall Tales: “Good People,” Curious Theatre, Denver

Tall Tales: “Good People,” Curious Theatre, Denver

“Good People” runs through April 19 at Denver’s Curious Theatre, Running time is two hours, with one intermission. Buy tickets here.

“Keenly observed rumination on how far decency can get you and how much depends on sheer luck,” Variety

Left to right: Leslie O’Carroll, Dee Covington, Kathryn Gray, courtesy, Curious Theatre

Left to right: Leslie O’Carroll, Dee Covington, Kathryn Gray, courtesy, Curious Theatre

With “Good People,” you sink your teeth into the situation and bite down hard, only to have playwright David Lindsay-Abaire shaking—hard. You might lose a few back molars trying to hold on, but it’s worth it. The slow build of the first act clashes beautifully with the moral showdown of the second, when characters shape-shift and squirm.

The first act unspools in the land of Big Gulp sodas, instant coffee, powdered creamers, and clam rolls. The second act vaults us to the land of fine wine, high-end cheese, caterers, duvets, nannies, and salmon. The switch of sets at the beginning of the second act is worth a standing ovation all by itself as we are rocketed from the beat-up back alleys of South Boston to the interior mansions of Chestnut Hill, where the walls gleam, the furniture is expansive, and fancy vases adorn the fireplace mantel. The first act is makeshift everything, patches and edges, rough textures in abundance. The second act is polished sheets of white blankness, all seamlessness and uniformity. We have circled around from the dark side of the moon to the front. We’ve gone from blue collars to lace curtains. Caitlin Ayer’s scenic design for “Good People” is knock-out; the multi-purpose modular pieces flip and move like a charm.

I grew up outside Boston and wrote more than a few newspaper stories from South Boston (“Southie”) and might quibble with the Boston accents, but that’s about my only complaint from this compelling staging of a captivating script about class, racism, dreams, work, luck, choices, chances, honesty, and the good old-fashioned American Dream. What does it take to get ahead? Good luck or hard work? Can you outrun your past or will it track you down?

At the center of “Good People” is Margie. Like everything else about her, the “g” is hard. When we meet her, she’s in the process of being fired from her gig as a clerk at the dollar store. She’s been relying on the heart and graces of friends and an understanding community, but good fortune has run out. The old, tired jokes don’t cut it anymore.  It’s Margie’s complex journey that is the heart of “Good People” and she is counseled by a frumpy landlord and mouth-has-no-filter friend, who want her to fight a bit harder for what she might deserve in the sweep of her life.

“Good People” reveals key tidbits in nifty, nearly sneaky fashion—the severity of Margie’s disabled child, the depth of character in the young manager who must fire Margie for poor performance, and the facts behind a legendary street fight that involved Margie’s high school sweetheart, a guy named Mike who is now a fertility doctor. Mike represents Margie’s possible bingo ticket to escape. It’s Mike who might just be able to lower down a rope and hoist Margie out of her dreary, grimy neighborhood. As a fertility expert, the situation gives Mike his toughest case of all—to possibly give re-birth to a woman whose life’s arc doesn’t arc at all.

While Margie has battled for dime increases in her hourly wage and hears the landlord’s tapping foot, Mike is throwing a big party for himself.  Mike once lived in the same part of rundown Southie as Margie, on the “lower end” of a rough part of the city. But he’s made it out and is now married to a smart, beautiful black woman and, well, complications abound.

Good People (3)

As Margie, Dee Covington gives the Curious Theatre production a sterling performance. She’s feisty, but weighed down. She’s got heart and hope, but isn’t afraid to deliver a smack when needed. She’s perfectly slumped and weary. Alongside Kathryn Gray as Dottie the landlord and Leslie O’Carroll as Jean, you’ve got three performances that are as gritty and matter-of-fact as the dirty folding chair in the back alley behind the dollar store. Kudos to the playwright for making them happen and to director Christy Montour-Larson for giving us the rough edges in all their glory. Michael McNeill’s Doctor Mike is perfectly wary and nervous, as he should be when Margie comes poking around with her hand out. Betty Hart as Kate offers a solid match as Mike’s wife. Every role comes with a wrinkle and Kate’s turn to attack, when it comes, is finely tuned. The whole cast is sharp, including John Jurcheck as Stevie, who gets to deliver the final dollop of irony.

“Good People,” in fact, is packed to the gills with irony—starting with its multi-purpose title.

Editor’s note: Telluride Inside… and Out’s monthly (more or less) column, Tall Tales, is so named because contributor Mark Stevens is one long drink of water. He is also long on talent. Mark was raised in Massachusetts. He’s been a Coloradoan since 1980. He’s worked as a print reporter, national news television producer, and school district communicator. He’s now working in the new economy and listed under “s” for self-employed. Stevens has published two Colorado-based mysteries, “Antler Dust” (2007) and “Buried by the Roan” (2011). Midnight Ink will publish the third book, “Trapline,” in the fall of 2014 and Mark is under contract for a fourth book in the series, too.  For more about Mark, check out his website.

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